Learn how to grow tulips below. Looking to source tulip bulbs? We have tulip bulbs available for purchase here! Read on for details, or use the shortcut buttons above to jump straight to the printable instructions.
Tulips are such a welcome sight come springtime. If you’re like me, you might be surprised to learn that tulips come in a wide variety of shapes, aside from the tear-drop form most of us are used to. From ruffled doubles to feathery, fringed parrot tulips and even star-shaped varieties! One of the easiest spring bulbs to grow, tulips are a must in your cutting garden.
How to Grow Tulips
While the full steps are outlined in the printable instructions below, here are a few extra details you might find helpful:
Plant tulips in fall for spring harvest. Optimal timing is when nighttime temperatures are consistently between 40–50°F, and the ground has cooled to 55°F or lower, but before it freezes. Ideally, plant 5–6 weeks before the ground freezes hard, but in my experience, tulips are pretty resilient. In Zone 4 Wisconsin, we typically plant in October or November, when temps are much lower.
Tulips prefer well-draining soil (pH 6.0–7.0) in full sun, but they will tolerate some shade. Do not plant in areas prone to standing water, as this will cause bulbs to rot.
If growing for landscape, plant bulbs pointy-side up 2.5–3 times deeper than bulb height and 1–6 inches apart. For example, plant 2-inch bulbs 6 inches deep. When in doubt, planting too deep is better than planting too shallow.
If growing for cut-flower production, dig a trench 6–8 inches deep. Plant bulbs close together, but not touching, often described like eggs in a carton. Alternatively, use the no-till planting method.
Although optional, adding a layer of compost at the root zone during planting aides in both root and plant growth. Water in deeply at planting. After that, rain and/or snowfall should provide adequate moisture through spring. Water only if particularly dry.
If you are unable to plant tulips soon after they are delivered, open the boxes and bags to let them breathe. Store in a cool, dark place away from moisture with good air circulation, where temps are below 65°F but above freezing. Alternatively, you can store bulbs in the refrigerator, away from ripening fruits.
While tulips are technically a perennial, flower farmers generally grow them as annuals, harvesting the entire plant, bulb and all. Flower farmers keep the bulb attached to serve as a food source between harvest and processing. This means that we plant new bulbs each year.
If you want to grow tulips as perennials, please note that they don’t always naturalize reliably. Successful tulip naturalization depends on location and variety.
Tulips require cold winters and hot, dry summers, like in Wisconsin! If you want to grow tulips as perennials, choose varieties labeled as good for naturalizing or perennializing. Avoid hybrid varieties, which generally do not naturalize dependably.
Bulb Chilling Zones 8–10
Speaking of cold winters, the reason tulips are planted in the fall is because they require chilling during their dormant period in order to develop flowers. For this reason, if you live in warmer climates (Zones 8–10), you will either need to purchase pre-chilled bulbs or pre-chill your own. To pre-chill your bulbs, refrigerate them for 6–12 weeks prior to planting. Keep away from ripening fruit.
Sourcing Tulips and Favorite Varieties
We’re also having our own bulb sale October 8, 2023, including many of the varieties pictured here!
For the best selection, shop early! The ideal time to buy wholesale flower bulbs is when they are blooming. So for tulips, you want to order wholesale bulbs for fall planting in the spring. That’s not to say you still can’t find bulbs during other times of year! For retail, you will typically be able to order bulbs in the fall.
How to Grow Tulips
- Bulbs, see above for sources and varieties
- Soil Amendments*
- Plant bulbs in the fall, after the ground has cooled, ideally 5-6 weeks before the ground freezes hard, typically September–December, depending on your Hardiness Zone.
- Choose a location with well-draining soil (pH 6.0–7.0) and full sun. If you haven’t already, prepare soil with amendments/compost based on soil needs.*
- Dig a trench or the planting area 6–8 inches deep.
- Optional, spread compost in the trench/hole to promote root and plant growth.
- If planting for landscape, plant bulbs pointy-side up 1–6″ apart.
- If planting for cut flower production, plant bulbs pointy side up close together, but not touching, like eggs in a carton.
- Backfill with soil and mulch with additional compost, if desired.
- Water in deeply at planting, but after that, rainfall should be adequate through spring.
- Tulips will bloom the following spring.
Ok, whew! We covered a lot, but I assure you that tulips are one of the easiest things you can grow. If you can manage to bury a bulb in the dirt, you’re sure to find a flower next spring.
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